Published: February 18, 2003
Ceramics and the Stories They Tell in a New Journal from Chipstone
By Laura Beach
“…These widely disparate specimens are yet more examples of the intellectual fun to be derived from pursuing the people behind the pots,” Ivor Noel Hume writes in “A Pot Potpourri,” the first of nearly 30 essays and book reviews contained in Ceramics in America 2002.
Hume’s lively style and boundless interest in his subject capture the essence of this scholarly journal, meant to stimulate enlightened exchange among a mixed bag of ceramics enthusiasts, including collectors, curators, dealers, critics, historical archaeologists and studio potters.
“The response to the inaugural issue … has been highly favorable…,” writes editor Robert Hunter, who brings his varied professional experience as an archaeologist and dealer in antique ceramics to good use in this interdisciplinary journal, published annually and now in its second year.
“Ceramic people can generally be lumped into two distinct groups: pottery people and porcelain people,” notes Hunter, whose observation is borne out the articles that follow. The greater emphasis is on pottery; only three articles are about porcelain.
In the first, “Antique Porcelain 101: A Primer on the Chemical Analysis and Interpretation of Eighteenth-Century British Wares,” J. Victor Owen notes that, even though the West has been fascinated with Chinese porcelain for 800 years, “The road to a domestic British porcelain industry took many turns because those experimenting with the manufacture of these wares only knew what the end-product should look like.”
Porcelain pastes and glazes can now be minutely broken down by chemical composition. These “compositional fingerprints” provide irrefutable clues to provenance. As Owen writes, “No longer is ephemeral connoisseurship required to identify pottery and porcelain artifacts. Instead, a more egalitarian situation has arisen whereby a with a small budget the archaeologist can characterize the nature of even tiny fragments of undecorated wares….”
Ellen Paul Denker asks if multiples, whether they be print reproductions of paintings or, in this case, porcelain molded after well-known statuary, has done society a service or disservice overall. In “Parian Porcelain Statuary: American Sculptors and the Introduction of Art in Ceramics,” Denker looks at the mid-Nineteenth Century manufacturing phenomenon that brought art into middle-class homes for the first time. During the Aesthetic Movement that followed, Parian was dismissed as Victorian bric-a-brac. Concludes Denker, “Parian is not art and never was meant to be. But its character — the product of an alliance between artists and manufacturers — laid the foundation for the twentieth century embrace of design as a democratic art form….”
One of last year’s most successful features, an in-depth essay by a collector, is repeated this year by James Glenn, who writes of his obsession with salt glazed stoneware. “My collecting has been focused on gathering the humble objects used by many to try and piece together a picture of eighteenth-century life in England, as well as in the American colonies,” Glenn says of his engrossing interest.
Two particularly good essays tackle the question of race relations as revealed in ceramics. Sam Margolin, in “‘And Freedom to Slave’: Antislavery Ceramics, 1787-1865,” traces the beginning of these wares to a cameo medallion, inscribed “Am I Not A Man and A Brother,” given in 1788 by Josiah Wedgwood to Benjamin Franklin, president of the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery. The many depictions on English ceramics of slavery as immoral, or of Britain as a protector of civil rights, belie England’s true role in the slave trade it belatedly condemned.
“‘The Very Man for The Hour’: The Toussaint L’Ouver-ture Portrait Pitcher,” is a detailed exploration by Jonathan Prown, Glenn Adamson, Katherine Hemple Prown and Robert Hunter of a little understood face jug in the collection of Chipstone Foundation. Through meticulous research, the authors have identified the portrait as of Toussaint L’Ouverture, the Haitian who led the first successful slave revolt in the Americas. The jug may have been made by a Medford, Mass., pottery founded in 1838 by three men, including two brothers, John and Thomas Sables, who were possibly African American. Eastern Massachusetts was a center for abolitionist activity.
Robert Trent brings Ceramics in America up the minute with an appraisal of Richard Schalck, a contemporary potter from Marblehead, Mass. Trent is, in part, interested in Schalck because he belongs to “the quiet world of the utilitarian potter,” a world that runs “parallel to the well-publicized commerce of art potters who actively pursue gallery and museum sales….” Schlack, who makes simple mugs, vases and teapots as well as abstract, biomorphic sculptures, studied at the Massachusetts College of Art and has been influenced by the visual culture of Mexico, including Mesoamerican art, on his repeated trips to that country.
One of Ceramics in America’s best features is its “New Discoveries” section, which this year includes a dozen short, informative articles on current research. They range from Kathleen Deagan’s report on La Vega pottery, a Taino Indian-made ware excavated in the Dominican Republic; and Seventeenth Century Terra Sigillata pottery recovered from an early Seventeenth Century English settlement in Newfoundland; to Robert Hunter’s report on 18 nearly complete flower pots unearthed at Colonial Williamsburg.
Ceramics in America 2002 concludes with six reviews of noteworthy books, as well as a checklist of articles, books and electronic resources on ceramics published between 1998 and 2001.
Ceramics in America 2002. Edited by Robert Hunter, with contributions from Robert Hunter, Ivor Noel Hume, Merry Abbitt Outlaw, J. Victor Owen, Ellen Paul Denker, Sam Margolin, Jonathan Prown, Glenn Adamson, Katherine Hemple Prown, Al Luckenbach, Robert F. Trent, James Glenn, Kathleen Deagen, Beverly A. Straube, James A. Tuck, Barry Gaulton, William Pittman, Stephen E. Patrick, Joyce Hanes, Jonathan Goodwin, Catherine Zusy, Mark M. Newell, Richard Veit, Mark Nonestied, Amy C. Earls, Rita P. Wright, Teresita Majewski, and Greg Shooner. Published by the Chipstone Foundation, Milwaukee; distributed by University Press of New England, Hanover and London; 603-643-7110. Available from University Press of New England, 37 Lafayette Street, Lebanon, NH 03766; 289pages, $55 softcover.
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